Their father Ephraim mourned for many days, and his relatives came to comfort him.
I. BEREAVEMENT. From the first it has been the fate of men to endure this sorrow, for our days on earth are as a shadow, and death takes away from us all in turn the joys of our hearts, the desire of our eyes, the objects of our hopes. And it is to be observed that the sudden and violent death of our beloved ones is peculiarly distressing. When the young are cut down by wicked hands, in tumult or in war, the shock to survivors is especially painful.
II. MOURNING. Lamentation for our dead is natural and right. "Jesus wept" at Lazarus's grave. There is such a thing as sanctified sorrow. In certain cases, even poignant grief and prolonged mourning are excusable. "The heart knoweth his own bitterness." The parent weeps for the children because they are not.
III. SYMPATHY AND CONSOLATION. Those who are near akin or intimate friends are expected to offer their affectionate condolence to the bereaved in the hour of sorrow and desolation. This is the obligation of friendship and its privilege also. Helpful and consolatory is true sympathy; for who would wish to bear his heaviest burden alone? Yet the most profitable ministrations in bereavement are those by which the heart of the bereaved is directed to take refuge in the fatherly wisdom and love of God, and in the tender sympathy of that High Priest who "in all our afflictions.., is afflicted," and who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." - T.
Whom the men of Gath that wore born in that land slew.
I. THAT THERE IS NO INDIVIDUAL OR SOCIETY SECURE FROM SUDDEN AND SEVERE MISFORTUNE. Oh! it is natural for us, when we are happy, to cherish the thought that we shall continue to be happy. And we may be placed in circumstances in which such an anticipation seems not only natural but reasonable. Our worldly substance may be abundant; our bodily constitution may be sound and strong, promising us a long and healthy life; our children may be growing up around us, with every appearance of being the support and comfort of our declining years. We may enjoy the affection of our friends. Very few persons have ever been so prosperous, or had equal ground to presume on the permanence of their prosperity as Ephraim. We have reason to hope that Ephraim was a good man. He was certainly the son of a very good man. We cannot doubt that his father Joseph gave him a religious education. We know that Ephraim was a wealthy man. It was, indeed, his great wealth that excited the cupidity of these Philistine robbers. It is obvious that he had reached a good old age, and he had gathered around him children and children's children, and the children of children's children. You can easily suppose the good old man retiring to rest happy in his possessions, and happier still in his anticipations, for he had reason to anticipate coming prosperity. God had spoken good of all the descendants of Israel, but of none had He spoken so much good as of Ephraim. In his numerous descendants he probably pleased himself with the thought, that he saw the begun accomplishment of the promise that his seed should become a multitude of nations. But what a fearful and sudden reverse was he destined to experience! This affecting incident reads a lesson to us all. It tells those who are afflicted, "in patience to possess their souls"; and it bids those who are happy, "join trembling with their mirth." It tells those who are in affliction to give God thanks that they have not been afflicted as Ephraim was. We may have been bereaved of much, it may be, but where is any of us that can for a moment compare his bereavements with those of Ephraim?
II. THAT THE DISPENSATIONS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE ARE OFTEN APPARENTLY IN DIRECT OPPOSITION TO THE DECLARATIONS OF THE DIVINE PROMISE. It is difficult to conceive a more striking illustration of this general principle than that furnished by the remarkable incident recorded in the passage before us. Ephraim, as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had an interest in all the promises made to his illustrious ancestors. "I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth," said Jehovah to Abraham; "as the number of the stars, so shall thy seed be." Ephraim was one of the sons of Joseph, and of course Ephraim had his share in the remarkable blessing that was pronounced on his father. "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall." Nor was this all; Ephraim had a share in that blessing which Jacob pronounced on himself, and on his brother Manasseh. When Joseph heard that his father was sick, apparently to death, he went to visit him, and he took along with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Jacob having been told that his son Joseph was coming to see him, strengthened himself, and sat upon his bed. "And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz, in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, and said unto me, Behold I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people," etc. There was more even than this. There was a great peculiarity in the manner in which Jacob pronounced this blessing. He crossed his hands, and laid his right hand on Ephraim, the youngest, and his left hand on Manasseh, the eldest; and when Joseph attempted to alter the position of the old man's hands, he replied, "I know it, my son, I know it," etc. Such was the promise; and in the narrative before us, you see the providence. Can two things be more apparently in direct opposition? Here is a promise that Ephraim shall be more prosperous than all his brethren; and here is a providence that deprives Ephraim at once of all his property, and, as it would seem, of all his children also. Nor is this at all an unparalleled or even an uncommon case, so far as apparent contrariety between the providence and promise of God is concerned. Was it like a fulfilment of a promise made to Israel that Jehovah would give them a good and large land, flowing with milk and honey, to lead them directly into the depths of the Arabian wilderness and keep them wandering there for forty years? Was it like a fulfilment of the promise which God had made to David, that he would make him the ruler of his people, when he drove him from the court of Saul, and exposed him to imminent hazard of his life on the mountains of Israel from the persecutions of his infuriated enemy? I can appeal to the experience of every Christian. Is it not distinctly stated in God's Word that no evil shall happen to the righteous? Is it not distinctly said, what is good God will give His people? Now, I put it to every Christian, if he has not in the course of his life met with much which at the time he could not help thinking evil for him? The reason of this apparent inconsistency of the providence with the promises of God, is by no means that there is a real opposition between them. It is the same God who speaks in His Word that works in His providence — and He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. His Word and His work are really perfectly harmonious; and in many cases those dispensations, which are apparently frustrating the promise are, in reality, fulfilling it. The reason why the promise and the providence of God often seem to us to be at variance, is our ignorance of the extent and of the particular design of the Divine dispensations. If we could see the commencement, and progress, and issue of all God's dispensations, we would gladly say, He is doing all things well, as we shall by and by be constrained to say, He has done all things well. But in the present state this must be a matter of faith, not of sense. It is the Divine appointment, that here we must walk by faith.
III. THAT THE DISSOLUTION OF THOSE CONNECTIONS THAT BIND US TOGETHER IN A VARIETY OF RELATIONS IN HUMAN LIFE, OCCASIONS TO ALL RIGHTLY CONSTITUTED MINDS SEVERE SUFFERING AND PERMANENT SORROW. It would be a miserable world — at least I am sure it would not be a happy one — if there were no husbands and wives, parents and children, and brothers and sisters, relative and friends. That man must be deplorably selfish, who, on reflecting on the various sources of his happiness, does not find social relation and affection one of the most copious. In proportion to the happiness springing from these relations, is the pain that is occasioned when they are dissolved, especially when they are unexpectedly and violently dissolved. Not merely are our friends the proper objects of a much stronger kind of affection than any other species of property; but their loss is of all other earthly losses the most irreparable. Our property, our reputation, our health, may be lost and regained. But a friend whom we have lost by death, we never can bring back again from the grove.
(J. Brown, D. D.)
II. III. 1. Perpetuated in joy. 2. Perpetuated in sorrow. (J. Wolfendale.)
III. 1. Perpetuated in joy. 2. Perpetuated in sorrow. (J. Wolfendale.)
1. Perpetuated in joy.
2. Perpetuated in sorrow.
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